Obama and Romney vs. the Bill of Rights

We don't know whether Obama or Romney will come out on top in the election. But it's a safe bet that civil liberties will not.

Back in the early days of the Republic, the framers went to great trouble to draft and ratify the Bill of Rights. And every four years, our leaders pay homage to the framers by neglecting or disparaging that creation.

Not all of it, of course. Americans generally favor religious freedom (the First Amendment) and the right to own guns (Second). But the ban on any establishment of religion (First) is a favorite target of believers who think the government has a sacred duty to promote Christianity.

Then there are the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches, and the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees the right against self-incrimination. These are often seen as obstructions erected for the perverse benefit of bad people, who would not be so bad if they had read more Bible stories in school.

So politicians rarely rise to defend these provisions or the rights they safeguard. Civil liberties are the Penn State Nittany Lions of our political realm: They have many enemies, and their friends often look embarrassed.

When George W. Bush was president, Democrats often decried his habit of trampling on freedoms in his zeal to stamp out terrorism at any cost. Running in 2008, Barack Obama decried Bush's aggressive use of presidential power in the name of national security.

But Democrats usually worry about civil liberties only when the other party is violating them. Obama is not always recognizable as the same person now that he is president. He has maintained the prison camp at Guantanamo, continued warrantless surveillance of Americans and carried out lethal drone attacks on U.S. citizens abroad without making public the evidence.

His White House counsel admits that Obama takes a, well, different view of presidential power than he did in 2008. "Until one experiences that first hand, it is difficult to appreciate fully how you need flexibility in a lot of circumstances," Kathy Ruemmler told The Wall Street Journal.

Midway through his term, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero pronounced himself "disgusted" with Obama's record. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley regards the president as a "disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States."

But not all the failings are Obama's. He tried to close Guantanamo and move detainees to U.S. soil, only to face overwhelming opposition from Congress, including many Democrats.

In some ways he has rejected Bush's approach. He ended the use of torture (notably waterboarding) on enemy captives and closed down the CIA's secret prisons. In other matters related to personal freedom, he's been a welcome contrast to Republicans -- endorsing the mosque near Ground Zero, abolishing the military's ban on openly gay members and supporting same-sex marriage.

If you're looking for an opponent willing to call Obama out for his disappointing efforts in this realm, Mitt Romney is not the candidate for you. When it comes to civil liberties, he gives every appearance of being Dick Cheney without the charm.

Close Guantanamo and transfer the inmates? Not a chance. In 2007, Romney said, "I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. ... My view is we ought to double Guantanamo."

When it comes to torture, the only time he says "no" is when he's asked if he's had enough. Last year, his campaign spokeswoman said Romney does not regard waterboarding as torture and declined to say he would not use it.

Another difference between the two candidates involves the Supreme Court, where neither would be ideal. Obama bitterly rejects the court's view that corporations have a free speech right to spend money on elections. His Supreme Court appointee Sonia Sotomayor signed a dissent concluding that despite the Second Amendment, "the use of arms for private self-defense does not warrant federal constitutional protection from state regulation."

The person Romney chose to head his Justice Advisory Committee is Robert Bork, whose 1987 Supreme Court nomination was rejected largely because of his evident contempt for judicial enforcement of the Bill of Rights. After Bush was criticized by the ACLU and others for his aggressive post-9/11 anti-terrorism measures, Bork said Bush deserved criticism -- "for not going far enough."

That's the sort of sentiment that rarely gets a candidate defeated. Right now, we don't know whether Obama or Romney will come out on top in the election. But it's a safe bet that civil liberties will not.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Enough About Palin||

    Don't your mouth work?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Steve seems to see Christianists under every bed and lurking around every bend. Channel Andrew Sullivan much?

    But the ban on any establishment of religion (First) is a favorite target of believers who think the government has a sacred duty to promote Christianity.

    These are often seen as obstructions erected for the perverse benefit of bad people, who would not be so bad if they had read more Bible stories in school.

    Whats the matter, Steve, did a Jehovah's Witness knock on your door and take up a bunch of your time or something?

  • John||

    Don't bother with any examples or anything. Just write the hyperbole and leave it at that.

    Come on Reason. It is not like it is that hard to make a reasoned case why Romney is not a Libertarian. You surely can do better than this.

  • Rasilio||

    No, he's just been talking to my Brother.

    Seriously stating that there are some Y's that do X and X is a bad thing cannot possibly be read to mean that all Y's are bad or are you seriously trying to deny that there is a sizable minority among the 75% of Americans who are Christians who actually believe this way, around 15% of American Christians according to the latest Pew poll on Religion iirc, that would put the number at somewhere around 1 in 8 Americans in total believe something similar to it being the role of Government to promote Christianity.

  • Homple||

    What is this "something" of which you speak?

  • Tman||

    Yeah, I don't get the christian bashing here. I'll admit that there are tons of fundies in the US who believe some dumb things but the fear is incredibly misplaced.

    I love to point out that the Bush-appointed federal judge John E. Jones III, a devout Lutheran, wrote the single most damning indictment against the use of "Intelligent Design" as a viable scientific theory in his decision in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case-in which the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes was ruled to be unconstitutional.

    Seriously, get over yourself with the fundie fear. It's ridiculous.

  • ||

    Somehow, I get the feeling the anti-Christian aspect is the only reason this Chapman fellow even cares. I doubt he would care if the shoe were on the other foot. Apparently its a virtue for the President to "endorse a mosque near Ground Zero," but I bet if a President endorsed a church or something that would go against the Establishment Clause. Some Reasoners can't seem to distinguish between "endorsing" and "not infringing on the right to do" something.

  • tarran||

    he ... closed down the CIA's secret prisons.

    How do you know that?

    Let me be clear: Obama is the civil service's bitch. He has allowed them to run wild without let or hindrance. Do you really think he has much power over the CIA? If they want secret prisons, they have them...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Civil liberties, writes Steve Chapman, are the Penn State Nittany Lions of our political realm: They have many enemies, and their friends often look embarrassed.

    What a wordsmith.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    This is today's dog bites man cop shoots dog story, right?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    But the ban on any establishment of religion (First) is a favorite crutch of non-believers who think any reference to religion is establishment of religion.

  • o3||

    its also completely ignored by tax-exempt pastors getting-on their obama hate

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    its also completely ignored by tax-exempt pastors getting-on their obama love

  • BakedPenguin||

    You know, it's pretty funny that the same people who pearl-clutch and couch-faint over the idea that Sharia might someday be imposed on America also prattle on about the "War on Religion".

  • aelhues||

    So...complaining about bans of religious groups in schools, or prayer groups around flag poles, or bans of religious symbols, or the ten commandments, makes discussion of sharia law, and it's possibility, invalid?

    Huh, I never would have known.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    So if some people are inconsistent in their views it means a prayer at a high school football game or a nativity scene or menorah on city property or a memorial cross on public land is Congress' establishment of religion?

  • Moridin||

    RE: Romney, "When it comes to civil liberties, he gives every appearance of being Dick Cheney without the charm."

    IS that a joke? lol

  • CC||

    I'd like to address this item because it seems that Barack Obama and his supporters have succeeded in a clever word game that made him look better than he was:

    But not all the failings are Obama's. He tried to close
    Guantanamo and move detainees to U.S. soil...

    The last part of this is the most important.

    All of this talk about "Obama is/was going to CLOSE Guantanamo" was a word game. Sure he was going to close GUANTANAMO...but this is where any further understanding or questioning seems to end.

    It wasn't about ending the bad things that were going on there or ending illegal detainments, etc. It was simply about moving them SOMEWHERE ELSE. It was about a change of address, nothing more.

  • Loki||

    When it comes to torture, the only time he says "no" is when he's asked if he's had enough.

    Romney: "Oh no, you're not going to torture me now are you? [Lying down.] Well, go ahead and torture me, give me your best shot, you'll never break me. Oh, I hope you don't use those whips over there."

  • Moridin||

    Yeah Loki, I thought that was a strange choice of words.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I was going to read this until I noticed the author's name.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    But he cunningly tricked you into commenting!

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Yes, he got me with the headline. Bastard.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

  • San Diego Divorce Attorney||

    Hey, do you really think he has much power over the CIA?

  • jason||

    Both of the contenders are against in the final election and blaming each other parties for basic rights of the civilians. Now this time it’s hard for the President Obama to gain his popularity like the previous elections.

  • Kristin Sartorius||

    I know I'm sure as heck not voting for either one of them... it's a shame Ron Paul didn't get the nomination. The party system's a total joke.

  • Solhattar||

    This is a very good blog and really attractive too.Women moncler pull a strong wave of fashion in winter coat in the world.

  • Como jogar poker||

    Hope everything is goog next time, i like Obama exist in his chair, he have an Nobel reward for peace.

  • Shahid Buttar||

    For better or (in fact) worse, neither Obama nor Romney can be trusted to reign in executive power. And if you KNOW the mainstream press is ignoring issues of grave concern to We the People of the United States, read news and analysis beyond the headlines -- and take advantage of action opportunities to raise your voice -- from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

  • high pr backlink||

    I always trust in Barack Obama! With Obama i have trust, no one can be better Obama at this time!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement